This week we sat down with a friend for a chat to help you understand and find out more about Little Scribblers behind the scenes. Big thanks to our roving reporter for all her help and guidance!
Tell us a little bit about yourselves…
Jolene: We are Pete and Jolene, the husband and wife team behind Little Scribblers. We created and power Little Scribblers with our 3 children as our inspiration. It’s great for our kids, so we wanted to share that with other parents and their children too.
We never imagined that one day we would own and run a business so engaged in the learning through play philosophy, helping many children on their learning journeys… but here we are!
What exactly is Little Scribblers?
Jolene: We are a family business who create fun educational resources for children, mainly in the form of educational packs.
We also manage events such as messy play and fine motor skills classes, as well as private parties. These help develop children’s fine motor skills, foster their imaginations, and so much more! In short – the company is all about children.
Little Scribblers was innovated at our current home in Malta, a little island in the Mediterranean Sea but we have a worldwide vision.
How did this start and develop?
Jolene: It all started when two and a half years ago I noticed that Malta did not have enough child-led child development classes. Something I’m passionate about.
So … I took a (very scary) plunge and opened weekly messy play classes, with the idea of encouraging adults to bring their little ones for an hour of exciting sensory play.
They explore new and interesting textures, touch and play with things that they’re usually told not to touch, as well as visually absorb an array of interesting colours and shapes. We added motor skills classes, focusing more on little one’s ‘fine’ motor skills, and luckily we’ve been booked up since.
Lots of work behind the scenes, but when you see children so happy and engaged – it’s an incredibly rewarding thing. Thankfully, in time, the classes were a tremendous success.
Both classes moved into schools and we started doing birthday parties too. Although we don’t provide the weekly schedule of classes anymore, you’ll still find ‘pop up’ classes from time to time.
Parents and caregivers wanted activities they could do at home, not just in my sessions. So Pete and I put our heads together and came up with some fun and educational activities which children can do from the comfort of their own homes or out and about, travelling, you name it. Several iterations later, this became Little Scribblers on Tour.
We were so excited about what we produced, and are so glad of all the support we have received. Thank you everybody!
What first sparked your interest in child development?
Jolene: I have always loved children and been interested in child development, but I did a degree in Financial Management and Accounting, so never thought that I would take that interest and turn it into a career.
A few years after university, I decided to go into childcare as a profession. Through this, as well as having my own children – I was able to acquire a deeper understanding into the different stages of learning development.
Pete: I’ve been drawing and designing since Uni, but I am from a teaching household. My entire family are teachers, and through this exposure growing up as well as Jolene’s decision to care for and educate children from home, we were able to experience first hand different learning systems, from heavy academic ‘3 R’s’ through to Montessori and Steiner Schools.
Ultimately, we’re all just trying to muddle through life and do the best we can for the world, the people around us and our family. Jo’s ideas were a great way to do exactly that.
How did you come up with the idea to create busy bags?
Jolene: After I set up fine motor skills classes, I began to receive many questions and emails from parents asking for advice on how they were able to improve their children’s motor skills at home. I would spend hours chatting to concerned parents and send them examples of activities I had come across over the last decade, as well as the different activities I had set out in my own classes.
I had learnt so much over this period and spoken to so many parents, teachers, speech therapists, doctors, occupational therapist … etc. I had seen activity packs online, but I wanted more than what I had seen out there. I wanted to provide that next level of resource for kids, carers and parents that was fun, super engaging and offers a genuine chance to learn. We are really passionate about being completely original with our designs and ideas, creating a new and innovative product on the market.
Who innovates the activities and what are the boxes you try to tick when you’re creating an activity pack?
Jolene: I do all the research and sourcing. Everything comes through our doors as samples first and we use our own children to test all the products. If they engage our kids and hold up to our full product testing regime, they go onto the next stage of the process. I present my findings and ideas over to Pete and it is his job to make them come to life.
Pete: Yes, I get the honour of trying extremely hard to portray what is going on in my wife’s head down on paper (laughs). I think sometimes she thinks I can work miracles.
Jolene: So far so good.
Pete: Good to know! Once we have the base activity set, I love seeing what other activities and learning objectives we can squeeze in. That density is really what defines Scribblers packs for me.
Jolene: Pete will design something and I will change it. He will change it and I will change it again, and so on. Our 10 year old will have her say, as well as a few select friends. It is a very long drawn out process before we finally go to print.
How does Pete design the bags?
Pete: I am very old fashioned when it come to designing, every pack starts with a piece of paper and a pen. I sketch everything out before designing it on the computer. Sometimes we will think of a lovely image that will work, so there is a sketch that is waiting for a concept that fits it. Sometimes the activity comes first, and putting that into a context give you the visual ideas. There is a magic folder full of sketches that are waiting for their time to be brought to life.
Jolene: As mentioned before, he will design the packs, by drawing together all our brainstorming ideas. He is incredibly good at adding in all those little extra ideas and activities I would never think of. This is where you really see his background in design and his teaching family’s influence.
How long do they take to create from your initial ideas to being ‘on the shelf’?
Jolene: The research and sample stage takes a good month. Pete’s stage takes around a month after we draw it, think about it, dream up something else to squeeze in, refine it, test it, repeat that a few times and then we have all the proof reading and final drafts before finally going out and setting up the print.
Somehow it’s still not over then with bag printing, instructions, videos, photos and all the blurb for the website to let you lovely people know about it.
Do you ‘road test’ the bags, and what does this entail?
Jolene: We are fortunate enough to have 3 product testers right here at home. They test the resources before we even start to design the packs. All the first drafts are also tested by them and a few friends to ensure we have not missed anything out and everything we had hoped to include works. I will sometimes completely destroy a pack through the testing process. This can be very disheartening, but if my little monkeys can do it then they are not good enough for our customers.
How do your activity packs encourage children’s development?
Pete: Our philosophy is very much learning through play. There is a saying by Maria Montessori, “What the hand does, the mind remembers”. It is so true.
Each pack is designed to focus primarily on an area of development, such as numeracy, shape and space, prewriting etc.
We have a curriculum that allows children to move through the different development stages at their own pace, creating a complete and solid foundation.
For example little ones need to first practice prewriting patterns and shapes, before they have the skills to effectively focus on actual letter formation.
We want to encourage them to have fun though interacting with the colourful pictures and resources. Most of the time they don’t even realise they are learning new skills.
Which is your favourite activity pack – and why?
Jolene: Every time we design and produce a new pack it becomes my favourite. I truly believe we are getting better and better as time goes on. If I was to pick one it would have to be ‘Full Circle’. I love that this pack can be used by an 18 month old and it would also challenge a 4 year old.
Our ranges are designed to ensure that children of different ages get years of fun out of the progressive nature of the activities.
Pete: I think ‘Beach Blocks‘ for me was the first time the different pieces and the artwork all came together and ‘clicked’ (pun not intended). I love the way all the different activities stack together. I love the idea of fusing syllabus areas, where one activity can spawn a whole range of learning opportunities. For me, that’s really encapsulated here.
Which activity pack was the most difficult to create?
Pete: Oh absolutely ‘Sign Here’. There’s no doubt about it. We were working on that one whilst on holiday, after the kids went to bed.
On the technical side, everything was very new and we were so clumsy in our process. The Little Scribblers style was still taking shape and as a couple we were still figuring out how to communicate our thoughts on something that we were so personally invested in.
Jolene: I would have to say the very first pack, ‘Left to Write’. Each card must have taken at least one evening to produce. Pete has become so fast at creating new images and we have a very distinctive style now. The first pack was a concept pack and we were still figuring out the brand and if activity packs was the right direction for the company.
Pick one thing that brings you the most joy from Little Scribblers?
Jolene: The kids!
If I did not have so many opportunities and feedback from happy parents I don’t think it would have kept me going.
Every class, photo received, review, comment and ‘like’ on social media means so much to me. We work around the clock to produce the packs and do the classes. The support has been absolutely incredible.
Within the first 24 hours of releasing our first packs we received 400 orders. It was at that point we knew we were onto something amazing!
Pete: Eeek, that’s a tricky one. It’s been such a blast!
I think when we realised teachers were putting their hands in their pockets and buying packs for their classrooms.
There’s something so gratifying about someone who has so much educational experience wanting to share it with their students.
It’s not fair though that teachers have to pay out of their own pockets, so we’ve set up the School Support programme, where we can get them some specialist packs for free.
What is the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received from a customer?
Jolene: Gosh, that is a hard one. I receive a lot of pictures daily of how little ones have progressed. I would have to say that when we get repeat orders from the same customer month after month… that just speaks volumes. There is someone in the UK that seems to order a couple of packs every month. I have no idea who she is, but she obviously likes the packs and so does her child.
Oh, and there are the customers that call me everytime they go to a party. That is a real honour that they would choose my packs as a birthday gift for a friend.
Pete: Probably when Jolene read an email she had been sent about a mother thanking us for allowing her to have a shower in peace. The packs are working, and that is exactly the fuel we need to keep going.
What are the most important things you’d like to see accomplished over the next few months?
Jolene: Better work life balance. We are in full swing at the moment and there are a lot of projects all being completed at once. I do all the admin for the business and run the classes, alongside the sourcing, shipping, printing, distributing… the list goes on. My 3 kids are extremely understanding and supportive. My goal is to spend more time with them and a little less time working. As far as the business goes… watch this space.
Pete: Going to bed before 1am on a more regular basis. Definitely that!
What gets you most excited about the company’s future?
Jolene: The fact that the sky’s the limit and that the combination of Pete and my skills seem to have produced some really lovely and exciting learning resources. We have very big projects in the pipeline, but that is a little while off.
Pete: I have to agree, doing this together has really brought us closer as a couple. It’s also great for our own kids to see that stuff doesn’t just appear in a shop.
Where do you see Little Scribblers going in the next few years?
Pete: We’ll always have spaces in the curriculum that need filling in, so there is and always will be continuous creative, educational and product development going on.
We do have some other really exciting stuff going on behind the scenes to let us reach out and help more kids and more families too. Keep a lookout, our customers will definitely be the first to know.
Do you put on any events?
Jolene: Yes, although not as many as I was a year ago. There seems to be a big demand for the classes, but there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything at the moment.
I still do messy play parties and schools invite me in to do sessions for their primary aged kids.
Recently I did 8 pop up sessions. It was the first time I have done it for the public in nearly a year, and I was blown away by the sheer support I had received. After 8 sessions and 200 kids through the doors in 4 days, I could have slept for 2 days straight! Exhausting but lots of fun too!
How has Little Scribblers changed since you set up the company?
Pete: Oh the scale and scope has increased massively and it’s super exciting. A year ago, I just wouldn’t have dreamed that we were going to be shipping a portfolio of products around the world and seeing them in classrooms. The biggest thing though has been in Jolene. I’m so proud of how she is still ‘Mum’ to our family whilst carrying this fast growing business. She has been amazing.
Jolene: In all honesty I started the classes to work around my kids and still contribute to the family income on a part time basis. The company just grew and grew and more doors kept opening. I try to never say no to an opportunity, and so here we are. 2.5 years down the line we are going strong and expanding everyday.
What do you see as your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
Jolene: Our most costly and frustrating mistakes have to include proofing and printing! We proof read, proof read and proof read again, using both ourselves and external proof readers, yet sometimes when the delivery arrives, we spot mistakes. Even if it’s small – it really is the most frustrating thing for us because we can’t understand how we all missed it! We’ve recently included an extra final ‘signoff’ step in the process to try and ensure that this doesn’t happen again. So far, so good!
Pete: ‘Sign Here’ rears it’s head again. We had loads printed, and there was an error that ran across so many different cards. We had to make a hard call that they just couldn’t go out like that and had to get a reprint. It was super early in our story, and I really took it to heart, seeing boxes of stuff that we couldn’t use!
If you were to see one ‘famous’ little one using one of your packs – who would it be?
Jolene: I wouldn’t have a clue, but as Archie Harrison, son of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan was born only this week … in the spirit of the moment – I’m going to say little Archie!
No, in all seriousness, I think we are all navigating our way through life, trying our best to give our kids the best opportunities we can. We want our products to remain as affordable as possible. Although we are here to make a profit and pay the bills, we have deliberately reduced our margins to ensure that we do not widen the social gap.
Pete: It’s the other end of the celebrity scale that excites me. If we can help kids who don’t usually have opportunities to express themselves and discover these skills, then that’s something really special.
We’re working really hard to keep prices accessible alongside supporting schools, hospitals and child centres. We’ve been so lucky to even reach this point, and it’s because so many people have helped us throughout our lives. This is our chance to pay it forward.
How do you relax when you’re not “Little Scribbling”?
Jolene: When I am not Scribbling, cleaning or being mum taxi, you will find me walking the dog, chatting with friends and family, pilates, reading, or maybe even just sitting in the garden watching the world pass me by for a few minutes. Note to self… must do a few more exciting things in my spare time.
Pete: Relax? With three kids and a new business? Haha. You do need to sneak in a bit of your own time where you can. For me, I’m trying to stay reasonably healthy, and I have my workshop / man cave where I can turn piles of recycled timber into sawdust, and very occasionally something useful for around the house.
What a trip down memory lane! Thanks for your time and a huge good luck. I’m so excited to see what the future has in store for you and the next adventure for the Little Scribblers.